This week we bring to you an exclusive coverage of Cebu and Bohol islands, Phillippines. Some say Bohol has one of the best beaches in Asia. We agree. In fact, we find it even better than the more popular Phuket beaches in Thailand in terms of experience. It is less crowded, cheaper and generally, the warm service of the people makes Bohol a great place to bring your family or love ones to.
The good: If you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday, you should probably check out Bohol. The experience of islands hopping on an exclusive speed boat is not common within beach holiday packages. Wild life, snorkelling activities, less crowd, affordable packages, nice beaches and the warmth of locals makes a trip to Bohol certainly worthwhile.
The bad: Like many tourist spots, you have to be prudent with your money and safety. While it is generally safe, it is very common that you will be charged for higher prices for things like taxi or tour packages. Always negotiate down and check around for prices; for that could save you some money.
Cebu – Hearing the name invokes images of white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Cebu city itself is more of a city area, with 2 large scale shopping centres currently ( SM City & Ayala Mall) and also taller buildings and well-polished hotels. Cebu city itself is pretty safe, with joggers jogging in groups at 4am in the morning. Maybe it is because the sun rises at around 5.30am in the morning and sets at around 5.30pm in the afternoon.
Getting to Cebu
Most travellers will probably travel to Cebu via Mactan Cebu International Airport, and Cebu Pacific and Silkair offers direct flights from Singapore to Cebu, while most other airlines will have to transit at Manila.
Cebu Pacific is a budget airline, with acceptable services and seat space, which is pretty much the same as the other budget airline carriers in Singapore. They offer web check-in which means you just have to be at the airport at least 45 minutes before departure to check in your luggage. You will also have to print your boarding pass before heading to the airport.
Once you get out of the airport, and hit the main road, there are plenty of taxi to choose from. Always opt for the white taxi as they are cheaper and insist that they turn on the distance meter. Otherwise, it is almost certainly that they will overcharge by providing a quote 3-4 times more.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Cebu city. Unless you have a pre-booked tour, we will recommend Dulcinea Hotels & Suites for a few hours of rest before departing for Bohol. Dulcinea is located at just a 5 minutes drive away from the airport, with relatively clean spacious rooms and a well-stocked snack bar if you are hungry from your trip. There is also Gaisano Island mall opposite the hotel for getting breakfast and getting some cheap light clothing/necessities if you need.
Getting to Bohol
There are 3 operators operating the fast ferries from Cebu city to Bohol island – Weesam, Supercat and Oceanjet. The departure timing varies and different operators depart from different terminals.
Street jury has opted for Supercat for the trip to Bohol, (because it is superfast, relatively). The Supercat terminal has food within the terminal, hence if your hunger pangs strike, you can buy some snacks at the terminal. There is also sandwich and cup noodles available on board the ferry. Enjoy the comfortable ride with a movie being shown the same length as the trip. On the day of the ride, The Expendables was on and we have enjoyed the movie even though we have watched it before. There was no checking in of luggage for Supercat.
Upon arrival at Bohol island, you will be approached by many drivers offering you rides and tour packages and offer to drive you to your hotel. You can forget about them if your hotel provides pick up services, but it will always be useful to ask them what is the price they are offering for comparsion purposes. Hiring a van to take you from the Tagbilaran terminal to Alona beach area on Panglao island will cost around 200 – 300 pesos.
A lot of the tour packages actually offer hotel pickup, so you would not have to worry about travelling in between destinations. Most, if not all of the Sea Tours packages offer island hopping, where you can enjoy a personal boat ride to different island and beaches of your choice. 1 engine boat, 1 boat operator, 3 guests and no other people. How cool is that!
Go for a dolphin and whale watching tour package because you will get to see them feeding in the wild. The delightful experince is very different from watching dolphins or animals in a cage. The islands also offer many different wild life attractions and many areas for snorkelling activities.
Fun Factor: 9.5/10
The typical package will include a trip to Chocolate Hill, Hanging Bridge, Tarsier, Zipline, Baclayon Church, Blood compact monument, Loboc River Cruise and Manmade forest.
Total fun if you would like to be superman for 5 minutes of your life. The cable is hung between 2 hills and you will be able to see the river below you. You can bring your camera to video your experience as superman, but just make sure you won’t donate it to the river. It is a little intimidating at first glance and when you are about to be launched to the air. But we guess it’s pretty safe and the fear just wears off when you are in the midst of the journey. You can’t wait for yourself to be zipped back to the base once you are on it.
There will be photographers taking photos for you, which you can purchase at the prices below:
250 peso for photos to be burned to CD
Remember to strike the pose of superman when you are launching or as you are reaching the base from the return trip!
Cost of a return trip: 350 peso/ person
Fun Factor: 8/10
The visit to the Hanging Bridge is totally for the fun of it, as the bridge is made of bamboo and can sway quite violently with small movements. The bridge is around 40 metres and it spans over the Sipatan river. It is definitely not recommended for those who have motion sickness. If you have made your way to the other end of the bridge, you will probably have problem making your way back.
Fun Factor: 6.5/10
Visiting the Tarsiers
Tarsiers are probably the icon of Bohol as they are native to the island and they look so cute and cuddly. From our research, we learned that some in despicable merchants will catch the Tarsiers and place them in cage for display, and poking them to prevent them from sleeping in the day, which stressed them out. From what we last heard, the caged Tarsiers were transferred to the Tarsier Sanctuary and there were no more caged Tarsiers, which is happy news!
Tarsiers are noctural animals which are active during the night time. Hence, try to keep your volume down when you are visiting the Tarsiers so that they can have some rest in the day. We actually saw a few sleepy Tarsiers which were awaken by loud noises of visitors and eventually doze off. Cute!
Fun Factor: 7/10
Chocolate Hill is furthest away from Tagbilaran city, so your driver will probably travel to the Chocolate hill first and let you visit the places above on the way back to the city.
The view at the Chocolate hill is magnificent, as there are really many little hills bobbing up from the ground. You will need to climb a flight of stairs to the top of one of the hills to enjoy the view.
The hills are “mouldy” when we were there as it only turn chocolate in summer when the heat has magically turned the hills to chocolates.
Entrance fee to the Chocolate hill is 50 peso/ person.
Fun Factor: 6/10
Man made forest
You can actually see the Man-made forest on the way back to town, as the neatly planted trees lined the road that leads up to Chocolate hill. The forest exudes a sense of calm and protection as the van ride through it, probably due to the height and coolness provided by the trees. There is a story of why the forest is created and if you wish to know, you can ask your driver or locals for the details, we shall not be a spoiler here.
You may have your driver to stop for a few moments at the forest, so that you can enjoy the serenity and cool air.
Fun Factor: 5/10
One of the oldest churches in the Philippines. You can’t help but marvel at the construction and the old world charm that the church exudes as you sit quietly at the altar area. It was peaceful and makes you wonder how do people in the 1700s build such a huge and beautiful church, how many sessions of Mass has been conducted in the church and the people who has attended the Mass.
The church has a museum with religious artifacts available. Photography within the museum is not allowed.
Entrance fee to the museum: 25 peso
Blood Compact Monument
The history of the blood compact monument can be found easily on the internet. The Monument is found along the way to Loboc river and you will find many tourists stopping by and take some photos. We guess it has a much deeper meaning for the Filipinos as it is a display the friendliness of the Filipinos towards friendly foreigners.